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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Rover-Axis-Girdner Loop


Cockscomb seen from the new Rover Trail

At first glance, the map of the Western Gateway trail system can be overwhelming. There are so many interconnected trails packed into the hilly parcel in northwest Sedona that the graphic representation looks like something that escaped a bait box.

Yet, because of the map, which is posted at most junctions throughout the 30-trail system, you'll have no trouble sussing out the maze and customizing a route. The maps, which include distances, ensure that you’ll always know where you are, making it simple to navigate the system. Your biggest dilemma will be deciding where to start exploring this maze which was completed in mid-2020.

Long, flowing Axis Trail can be used to make loop hikes

Western Gateway Trails maps make navigating easy

The convoluted collection of routes located in the Dry Creek area of Coconino National Forest between State Route 89A and Boynton Pass Road offers uncongested alternatives just steps away from some of the area’s most heavily-used trails.  Two major trailheads make for easy access. The Cultural Park trailhead at the south end provides quick access to a tight-pack of curvy, edge-hugging routes while the Aerie trailhead at the north end offers a softer mix of long, flowing paths above the water-whittled pocket of Dry Creek. 

Doe Mountain seen from Cockscomb Trail

One circuit to try uses a combination of old standards, adopted user-created and newly-constructed trails for a trip through high-desert foothills and leafy drainages with outstanding Red Rock Country vistas all around.
Wilson Mountain seen from Rover Trail

The circuit takes off from the Aerie trailhead with a 1.2-mile walk on the old standard Cockscomb trail.  This classic segment unwinds with majestic views of Doe and Bear Mountains and sweeping valley views.  The hike then heads south on the Axis trail a recently adopted user-created path with some new construction thrown in.

Capitol Butte (left) and Chimney Rock (center) seen from Rupp Trail

The Axis trail is a wavy, free-flowing single track that slides through scrubby high desert on the eastern flanks of the iconic Cockscomb formation—a bristled row of red rock spires.

Pinon pine are common trees on the route


Hiking through the trail’s constant parade of bends, nooks, nobs, rockfalls and slickrock slopes never feels contrived and complements the natural rhythm of the land.

There are excellent map signs at all junctions

Follow this undulating route 3.4 miles to where it connects with the re-routed Girdner trail, another time-honored route that serves as a backbone of the system. Head north here and hike 2.3 miles through mash up of shallow canyons, riparian corridors and rangeland that roughly traces the scoured course of Dry Creek before ascending up to a ridge.  At the top of the rise, the trail intersects another old favorite, the Rupp trail. Turn left and hike a half-mile and pick up the new Rover trail.  Over Rover’s 0.6-mile length, beautiful views of Sedona’s Courthouse Butte, Capitol Butte and Chimney Rock stand out to the south while the chalky-white escarpments of Wilson Mountain dominate the northeast horizon.  When back at the Axis trail junction, just follow the signs back to the trailhead through the pinon pine-shaded, thorn-addled thickets of Sedona’s newest cluster of off-the-main-drag hikes.

Mountain views, grasslands and creek gorges ad variety to the hike

Big valley views are highlights of the hike

LENGTH: 9.8 mile loop

RATING: moderate

ELEVATION: 4,570 – 4,200 feet


Aerie Trailhead (described here):

From the State Route 179/89A traffic circle in Sedona, head 3.2 miles west (left toward Cottonwood) on SR 89A to Dry Creek Road. Turn right and go 2.9 miles to Boynton Pass Road (FR152C), make a left and continue 1.5 miles to a “T” junction and veer left to stay on FR152C. Continue 1.4 miles to Aerie Road, turn left and go 0.4 mile to the turn off for the trailhead on the right.  There are no fees or facilities at the trailhead.

Cultural Park trailhead (optional south access):

From the State Route 179/89A traffic circle in Sedona, head 4.2 miles west on 89A Cultural Park Place on the right at the traffic signal. Go north 2.2 miles to the parking area. Follow the Outer Limits trail north to connect with Ground Control. There is a

picnic ramada and interpretive displays at the trailhead. No fees.




INFO: Coconino National Forest

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